It’s an exciting season once again. But in complete contrast to last year, for all the right reasons. The good dry spell in March allowed us to really get on with field operations. Exuberant initial crop development has been steadied-up nicely by cooler conditions and early plant growth regulator (PGR) attention. And so far this month we’ve had enough useful rain to allow good fertiliser uptake – although only just.

I’m particularly excited about our oilseed rape at the moment. Crops looking a little on the tall and thin side three weeks ago are coming into flower with very encouraging levels of branching right from the base. Thick-stemmed and very well-rooted populations of 20-25 plants/sq m are typically carrying a good 15-20 flower heads/plant and have just the space they need for canopy development. A very different crop architecture to the past, it’s just what we’ve been trying to achieve with our combination of fast-developing hybrids, low seed rates and better balance of fertilisation and plant growth regulation.

With so many side branches, we’re seeing a steady creep into flowering rather than the petal rush we so often get. This is just what the doctor ordered to minimise light reflection and maximise  interception throughout the canopy.

It does mean we’re looking at a flowering period of up to six weeks, though, putting the onus firmly on well-timed sclerotinia control. Our key here will be not to go in too early so our two-spray programme gives sufficient protection over the whole petal fall period. Fingers crossed then that night time temperatures continue to stay below the 7C sclerotia need to germinate for a while yet.

Our winter wheats are generally full of promise too. Forward crops, in particular, have profited from our decision to hold-off on early N and take a robust approach to growth regulation from T0.

The dry weather until the end of March and no significant signs of yellow or brown rust allowed us to hold off on most of our T0s until the first week in April. Apart from a very few early sown crops, which will be getting their T1 sprays this week, this means most applications won’t be going on for another two weeks for the best Leaf 3 targeting.

Septoria is always our number one threat. There’s so much of it about on leaves that haven’t been killed off by the winter that keeping our spray intervals spot on and using robust rates and mixtures to combat the major challenge of sensitivity shifts will be crucial this season. Patience will be our watchword to maintain the best possible balance between spray intervals and crop development; tempered by the flexibility to react immediately to the changing situation field by field.

This year’s grain market makes managing the spend particularly important. But the very last thing anyone can afford is to be chasing Septoria and staring down the barrel of 5t/ha crops as so many found themselves doing the season before last.